26 December 2014
Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis is primarily nocturnal and although it may be frequently seen during crepuscular periods it is rarely seen in broad daylight. Thus the opportunities to photograph this creature are limited.
I was both surprised and delighted to see this individual poking around on the grass, no doubt looking for earthworms, slugs and other such prey, made available by the unseasonably warm weather we are having.
Even people who have never seen a skunk, or do not have them in their own homelands, are familiar with this small mammal, about the size of a house cat.
Its best known feature consists of a pair of internal perineal musk sacs, which discharge into the anus. When irritated, or faced with danger, the skunk elevates its tail and discharges a twin spray of foul smelling liquid, with a precise aim that would be the envy of most marksmen. Nothing smells quite as bad! The odour was described by E.T. Seton as "a mixture of strong ammonia, essence of garlic, burning sulphur, a volume of sewer gas, a vitriol spray, a dash of perfume musk, all mixed together and intensified a thousand times!"
Despite this defence that one might think almost impregnable, skunks are frequently the prey of Great Horned Owls Bubo virginianus, and I have heard anecdotally that in some areas are their favoured food.
Personally, I find skunks to be quite charming, and based on my experience if you leave them alone they are quite happy to reciprocate the favour. In a previous house, I had one living under my porch and we got along just fine!
Everywhere I looked this morning American Crows Corvus brachyrynchos were abundant, even several of them mobbing an adult Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus.
Waterloo really should be renowned for the crow roosts that occur in downtown areas every night. The birds appear to derive the benefit of a warmer overnight temperature in the city, and they flock in by the thousands. At the recent Christmas bird count Virgil Martin conservatively estimated the roost concentrated mainly at the University of Waterloo campus at 10,000 individuals.
It is a grand experience to watch them leaving in the morning to forage in the hinterland, or returning at night to roost. They stream by non stop for forty-five minutes to an hour.
I am a great admirer of corvids and a couple of years ago I came across this poem (http://travelswithbirds.blogspot.ca/2012/12/american-crow-corvus-brachyrynchos.html) which so pleasingly and accurately captures the essence of the urban crow roost. I would recommend it as essential reading for anyone who respects the tenacity, perseverance and beauty of crows.